The 1950s were exciting times. Reported sightings of alien spacecraft at Roswell, N.M., in 1947 spawned a UFO craze that created ideal conditions for the appearances on Earth of three outrageous vehicles. These three arrivals, however, were confirmed by copious publicity photographs and thousands of witnesses. The tiny finned creatures took the automotive world by storm when they were unveiled at the Turin Motor Show for three consecutive years beginning in 1953. Today, some would argue they are among the most important show cars ever created.
Italian postwar automotive design studios were a crucible of fearless—and sometimes far-fetched—ideas that ultimately informed the styling of automobiles worldwide. While Detroit and its high-profile personalities were often heralded as the cutting-edge tastemakers, diligent inquiry suggests that certain individuals south of the Alps were responsible for influencing the look of everything from Cadillacs to kitchen appliances. None was more forward thinking than Franco Scaglione, a young designer in the employ of Carrozzeria Bertone, the Italian coachbuilder whose fortunes immediately following the war were closely tied to automaker Alfa Romeo.
Alfa Romeo’s 1900 Sprint mechanicals underpinned the one-off bodywork of Bertone’s landmark styling exercises called Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica (BAT). Scaglione’s goal was to achieve maximum aerodynamic efficiency by means of faired-in wheels, a wraparound greenhouse, and variations on the signature upswept fins that make the BAT name so apposite. Naturally, opinion is divided as to which of the three BATs is the most successful design; interpretation of success depends on whether the observer is attracted to a car that more resembles a manta ray than a parrot fish, or something in between. While it is generally acknowledged that the first BAT made the greatest impact, other opinions suggest that the middle car is the most perfect expression of what the future had in store. The most understated of the three—in relative terms—is BAT 9, with the vestigial fins, front-end treatment, and profile that offer a glimpse of the shape of things to come in series production automobiles. When viewed from any vantage point, each show car reveals Bertone’s genius, and each BAT is a masterpiece in its own right, independent of its siblings.
Indeed, BAT 5, BAT 7, and BAT 9 are colossal design statements—all the more so when they appear in one another’s company. Today, they are completely restored to their original specifications and appearances. Sorted and roadworthy, they continue to turn as many heads when encountered on 21st-century roads as they did on the show stand some 50 years ago.
Three great automotive rarities swoop into sight: Bertone’s unique BATs are on offer for $15 million.
A highlight of the 2005 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, which honored the Alfa Romeo marque, was to see all three BATs reunited for the first time since their appearance there in 1989. But viewing them is not the same as spending time behind the wheel, and driving the BATs is an exhilarating experience. Situated behind the curvaceous windshield, the pilot feels almost as if he is ensconced in an earthbound spacecraft, so theatrical and exaggerated is the view through the wildly curved side screens and ever-trailing fins visible through the bifurcated backlight. The inline-4 dohc engine, which produces a modest 100 hp, admirably powers each of the lightweight, 2,400-pound BATs without finicky fanfare. To view the three cars clustered in quiet repose is delightful; to see any of them perambulating under their own power is a remarkable sight, one that recalls a giant Precambrian sea mollusk or a ghostly skate gliding—not on a silent undercurrent, but rather on four thin wire wheels. In fact, it is only the narrowness of the vehicles’ tires that dates these otherwise timeless creations.
The BATS are offered only as a set of three.
Paul Osborn, Cars International Ltd., +44.207.537.9995,